Paul Lintier

Villers-devant-Dun, France

The guns awoke us early, and we prepared to return to meet the enemy. About seven o’clock we found ourselves back in Tailly, where we learnt that the day before the enemy had been pushed back as far as the Meuse, and that Beauclair and Halles were now entirely in French hands.

Standing in column of route in the village we awaited orders. The German artillery began to bombard the neighbouring hills.

In the market-place was a hay-cart in which were lying three wounded Uhlans. An officer, his hands behind his back, was walking up and down in front of the cart. Some women and children were standing round them in a group, silently contemplating the Germans. One or two of the gunners joined them out of curiosity. The Uhlans looked at them with sad and troubled blue eyes.

“They aren’t such an ugly set as I should have thought,” declared Tuvache.

“No?” said Millon. “I suppose you thought they had got a third eye in the middle of their foreheads, like the inhabitants of the moon!”

Tuvache shrugged his shoulders:

“No, only I had an idea they were uglier. They don’t look as bad as all that!”

There was severe fighting this morning in the Beauclair Gap, through which the enemy tried to force a passage. The incessant din of the battle sounded from afar like the rising tide beating on a rocky shore.

“Forward! Trot!”

After having proceeded some three hundred yards down the Beauclair road we again halted. Soldiers were coming back from the lines, some of them wounded in the hands or arms, and others in the shoulders. All of them were bandaged. They stopped to ask us for water or cigarettes, and we exchanged a few words with them :

“Are we advancing?”

“No, but we are holding our ground. It is their machine-guns that are the trouble. They’re just awful ! ”

“Are you in pain?”


“What does it feel like, a bullet?”

“It burns a bit, but it doesn’t hurt much.”

Some others, wounded in the leg, began to pass by. These were evidently in great pain. They were perspiring with fatigue and heat, for the sun, now in the zenith, was beating straight down in the hollow through which the road wound. Many were helping themselves along by the aid of sticks cut from the hedges.

An officer’s horse went by, led by a stretcher-bearer and bearing a foot-soldier whose thigh had been broken by a shell. The wounded man was clutching the animal’s mane with both hands, his right leg hanging helpless. Just above the knee was a rent in his breeches through which the blood flowed freely, running down to his boot and dripping thence to the ground. His eyes were closed and his blood-shot eyelids, pale lips, and the red beard covering his long, bony jaws, made him look like one crucified.

“Can you manage to hold out?” asked the stretcher-bearer.

“Are we still far from the ambulance?”

“No, not far now. If you feel faint let me know and I’ll put you down. Does it hurt much?”

“Yes, and it’s bleeding. . . . Look at the blood on the road!”

“That’s nothing. Hold on to the mane!”

An ambulance passed full of seriously-wounded. Instead of being laid down they had been propped up against the sides of the carriage so that it should hold more. Under the green tilt I caught a glimpse of one man with a face the colour of white marble whose head was rolling on his shoulders, and of another who was streaming with blood. A huge and swarthy corporal was sharing the box with the driver. His gun between his knees and one hand on his hip, he was sitting bolt upright with a grave and determined air, his head enveloped in a turban of crimson lint. Blood was trickling into his right eye, which, in its red-rimmed orbit, looked strangely white, and from thence ran down his drooping moustache, matting the hairs of his beard, and finally dropping on to his broad chest in black splashes and streams.

One of the wounded who had been waiting for a long time, sitting by the roadside, caught hold of a carriage which dragged him on.

“Please stop and let me get up!”

“We’ve no more room, I’m afraid!”

“I can’t walk.”

“But as you see we’re full up!”

“Can’t I get on the step? ”

“Yes, if you can manage it!”

But the vehicle still went on. A gunner helped the man on to the step.

At the end of a sunken road, in the shade of some tall poplars with dense foliage which the sun only penetrated in places, two Medical Corps officers had improvised a sort of operating-table on trestles. Some wounded laid out on the slope were waiting their turn to be bandaged. Among the stones a thin, dark-coloured stream of water was flowing, partially washing away the pools of blood and bits of red-stained cotton-wool and linen. The air was pervaded by a stale odour like that of a chemist’s shop, mingled with the damp smell of running water.

A Captain was brought up in a stretcher, on both sides of which his arms hung limply down. A hospital orderly cut off the sleeves of his tunic, and he was then placed on the operating-table. He was an ugly sight as he lay there with his blood-stained bare arms and his sleeveless blue tunic encircling his body. While his wounds were being dressed he gave long-drawn sighs of pain.

“Right about wheel!”

We set off up a steep incline across the fields to take up position on the heights overlooking the Beauclair Gap and the road we had just left. The battery was backed by a spur of the hills which hid Tailly from view except for the spire of the steeple, surmounted by a weather-cock, which seemed to rise out of the earth behind us.

In this position we were visible to the enemy through the V-shaped gap between the hills commanding the Meuse. We could see the woods and fields beyond Beauclair occupied by the Germans, and which the French batteries ahead of us were covering with shrapnel shell from behind the sheltering ridges. In the fields in the distance the German infantry debouching from the woods looked Hke an army of black insects on a bright green lawn. We immediately opened fire, and under our shells the enemy hastily regained the woods, which we then began to bombard.

The action seemed to be going favourably for us this morning. Some French batteries had advanced by the Beauclair road and were now engaged in the gap. On the hills surrounding us in a semicircle other batteries which, like ours, had taken up positions on the counter slope, and others still farther off, near the hills directly above the Meuse, thundered incessantly, the position of the invisible guns being revealed by clouds of dust and flashes of fire showing up against the greenery. The firing of these batteries was so violent that little by little the air became cloudy. An acrid atmosphere of smoke and dust invaded the valley, in which the numberless echoes multiplied the roar of the guns as the sound-waves met and intermingled. We were surrounded by a loud and continual humming and buzzing which deafened us and almost paralysed our other senses.

“Cease firing!”

The detachments became motionless round the guns. It was already midday.

Suddenly the enemy began to bombard Tailly and the pine-woods commanding our position. Some limbers which since the early morning had been waiting on the outskirts of the woods moved off hurriedly. A section of infantry emerged from the smoke of a high-explosive shell.

“Take cover!” ordered Captain de Brisoult.

The fire of the French artillery gradually slackened. A volley of shrapnel shells burst over the valley where our teams were waiting for us, and a fuse sang loud and long through the air. Nobody seemed to be wounded. The limbers standing motionless in the sunshine made a black square on the grass.

The enemy appeared to have registered the position of a battery installed on the other side of the pine-woods, and, under a perfect hail of howitzer shells, the guns were brought back one by one through the woods.

Hutin, who had taken shelter behind the shield, suddenly stood up in order to see. He crossed his arms.

“Yes, that’s it!” he growled.

“What is it? But take cover!”

“That’s it! Retreat! Oh, my God!”

I also stood up. Sure enough, sections of infantry were crossing the ridges and falling back.

“Take cover, you idiots!” yelled Brejard.

A shell swooped down. The splinters whistled through the air and the displaced earth pattered round us on the dry field. I had stooped down instinctively, but Hutin had not moved, being too much occupied in observing the retreat of the infantry, which was becoming more general every moment.

” There you are,” said he, ” now it will be our turn. … I bet … we shall retire too. . . . Here’s an A.D.C. coming up. . . . Oh, if we’re always going to retire like that we may as well take a train ! ”

As he had suspected, the A.D.C. brought orders for us to retreat. The teams trotted up the slope to join the guns. The moment was critical, and, as ill-luck would have it, the first gun, in position on the counterslope, began to roll downhill as soon as the spade, which had been solidly jammed in the ground by the recoil, had been pulled out. It took eight of us to drag the gun back, and at every instant we asked ourselves whether we should succeed in assembling the train. The drivers began to lose their nerve, and backed the horses at random, this way and that.

” Now then, all together. . . . Whoa, there, whoa ! . . . Steady ! . . . Whoa back ! ”

A final pull, and we had limbered up.

” Ready ! ”

The team started.

Beyond the village of Tailly the hill we had to ascend in order to reach the plateau was very steep, especially where the road skirted the stone wall of the cemetery.

Some foot-soldiers resting on both sides of the way had taken off their packs and piled arms. Sitting in the grass they watched us go by with that absent and stupefied look peculiar to men just returned from the firing-line. Suddenly a shrapnel shell, the whistling approach of which had been drowned by the rumble of the vehicles, burst above the cemetery. Some of the spldiers promptly dived into the ditch, and others fell on their knees close to the wall, shielding their heads with their packs. Two men, who had remained standing, stupidly hid their heads in the thick hedge. On the limbers we bent our shoulders and the drivers whipped up the horses.

At one point the road was visible to the enemy, but when we discovered this it was already too late to stop.

A volley of shells. . . . Over ! We had escaped by a hair’s breadth.

We formed up ready for action in the same position as the day before, overlooking the neighbouring ridges, where the tall poplars served as aiming-points. The third battery, which had been with us on the Saturday, had opened up some fine trenches here. But the limbers had hardly had time to range up on the edge of a copse when high-explosive shell began to fall round us.

How had the enemy been able to discover our new position? We were carefully covered, and were invisible to him on all sides, nor had we yet fired a single shot, so that our presence had not been betrayed by smoke or flashes.

No aeroplane was in the sky. Then how had we been seen ? . . .

We sheltered in the trenches.

“It isn’t at us that they’re firing,” said Hutin.

” Then what are they firing at ? ”

” I think we’ve got to thank those fat old dragoons they saw passing on the road for this!They’re aiming at the road.”

But the dragoons got farther and farther away, and the enemy continued to fire in our direction. There was no doubt that he was aware that there was a battery in position here. Had we been betrayed by signal by a spy hiding somewhere behind us? I carefully scrutinized the surrounding country, but could see nothing.

Some shells fell a few yards off the guns, smothering the battery in smoke and dust, and shaking us at the bottom of our trenches. I heard the Major shout :

” Take cover on the right!”

While the Captain and Lieutenant remained at their observation-posts the gunners hurriedly moved out of the line of fire of the howitzers. But as we ran along the road across the fields in view of the enemy a Staff passed by. I was seized with sudden anger. The horse-men would get us killed ! The party consisted of about twenty ofiicers in whose centre rode a General, a little, thin man with grey hair. A gaily coloured troop of blue and red Chasseurs followed them. The scream of
approaching shells at once made itself heard, and thrilled long in the air. The Chasseurs and officers saluted, but the little General made no movement. This time the enemy had fired too low.

” To your guns ! ”

The Captain thought he had discovered the battery bombarding us :

” Layers ! ” he called.

Feverishly, beneath the shells, we prepared for action.

” Echelon at fifteen. First gun, a hundred and fifty ; second gun, a hundred and sixty-five. . . . Third …”

The fuse-setters repeated the corrector and the range.

” Sixteen. . . . Three thousand five hundred. . . .”

” In threes, traverse ! By the right, each battery ! . . .”

” First gun . . . fire ! . . . Second . . .”

The rapid movements of serving the guns electrified us. In the deafening din made by the battery in full action orders had to be shouted. We no longer heard the enemy’s guns ; they were silenced by the roar of our own. We forgot the shrapnel, which nevertheless continued to fall.

Suddenly the howitzer fire slackened, and then ceased.

” They’re getting hit ! ” said Hutin, bending over the sighting gear.

” Fire ! ” answered the No. i.

” Ready ! ”

” Fire ! . . . Fire ! . . .”

On the plateau behind us companies were retiring in extended order.

Night fell. We also received orders to retire. It seemed as if the earth and the woods were absorbing such light as was left. The movements of the infantry in the distance were lost in the undulations of the ground. The men seemed to become incorporated with the fields, and dissolved, disappearing from view.

Near a dark shell-crater lay a red heap. A soldier was lying stretched on his back, one of his legs blown off by a shell, leaving a torn, bluish-red stump through which he had emptied his veins. The lucerne leaves and earth under him were glued together with blood. The man’s head had been thrown back in his agony, and the Adam’s apple jutted out amid the distended muscles of his neck. His glassy eyes were wide open, and his lips dead white. He still grasped his broken rifle, and his kepi had rolled underneath his shoulder.


Paul Lintier

Villers-devant-Dun, France

This morning we marched for hours through clouds of dust, the sun scorching the backs of our necks. The men were thirsty and continually spat out the clayey saliva which clogged their mouths. The battery halted in a valley on the outskirts of a village — Villers-devant-Dun, I think it was — where the sound of the guns seemed to come from the west and south as well as from the east and north. This was a surprise, and at first made us uneasy. Janvier, for the hundredth time, said:

“That’s it! We are surrounded!”

He was haunted by this idea. However, it was not long before we discovered that the illusion was solely caused by an exceptionally clear echo. In reality the fighting was going on near Dun-sur-Meuse.

We crowded round the fountain, on the surrounding wall of which the last Bulletin des Communes was pasted. But first we each drank, in great gulps, at least a quart of fresh water. Afterwards we read the news. All was going well! Nevertheless, it was announced that Mulhouse had been retaken. Apparently, then, it had been lost. We exchanged impressions:

“Well, Hutin?”

“Not bad,” he answered rather dubiously, “but they don’t say anything about our little show of last week.”

Brejard, on the contrary, was filled with an optimism which nothing could damp:

“Virton, Marville — why, all that is a mere nothing on a front as long as this! We’ve had to give a little in some sectors, that’s all. . . . But otherwise things are going quite all right!”

“All the same, it isn’t nice to find ourselves in one of the sectors which have to give way,”
answered Hutin.

“All that will change. We’re going to be reinforced. . . . They say that De Langle is only a day’s march off.”

“He’ll have to hurry up if he wants to find any of the 4th Infantry left!”

That was true. The regiments of the line, especially those of the 8th Division, had suffered terribly. Some battalions had been diminished by two-thirds, and, since the Battle of Virton, many companies were not more than fifty or eighty strong, and had lost all their officers. How we wished that De Langle would arrive!

In the ever-thickening dust and overpowering heat we returned by the same road to the positions we had occupied the day before at Tailly. It seemed to us that we had uselessly wasted more than seven hours marching in a large circle.

Another aeroplane appeared. This oppression was becoming unbearable ! We felt like a flock of frightened sparrows beneath the shadow of the hawk. The Germans have improved and developed the aerial arm to an enormous extent, and, unfortunately, our .75’s are unable to hit aeroplanes, the mobility of the gun on the carriage not being sufficient. It is necessary to dig a pit for the spade, and before this is finished the machine is always out of range.

The aviator who had just flown over us had thrown out a star in order to mark the situation of one of our batteries in position on the heights commanding the river. The guns at once moved off, and took up a fresh position elsewhere. Shortly afterwards shells began to fall on the hill they had been occupying — enormous shells, which made the earth quake for miles around and withered the grass with their dirty, pungent smoke.

“I expect those are the famous 22 cm. shells ” said the Captain.

We had nothing to do. Towards Stenay the horizon was deserted and motionless. For several hours heavy shells continued to fall in threes, making black holes in the green meadows in which not a soul remained. We were obviously within range of the guns from which they were fired, and we had no guarantee that we should not be hit if the enemy lifted his fire a little.

I was struck by the marvellous faculty of adaptability which forms the basis of human nature. One becomes accustomed to danger just as one becomes accustomed to the most cruel privations, or to the uncertainty of the morrow.

Before the war I used to wonder how it was that old men nearing the extreme limits of existence could continue to live undisturbed in the imminent shadow of death. But now I understand. For us the risk of death has become an element of daily life with which one coolly reckons, which no longer astonishes, and terrifies less. Besides, a soldier’s every-day life is a school for courage. Familiarity with the same dangers eventually leaves the human animal unmoved. One’s nerves no longer quiver; the conscious and constant effort to keep control over oneself is successful in the end. Therein lies the secret of all military courage. Men are not born brave; they become brave. The instinct to be conquered is more or less resistant — that is all. Moreover, one must live, on the field of battle just as elsewhere ; it is necessary to become accustomed to this new existence, no matter how perilous or harsh it may be. And what renders it difficult — more, intolerable — is fear, the fear that throttles and paralyses. It has to be conquered, and, finally, one does conquer it.

Apart from the necessity of living as well as can possibly be managed, the greatest disciplinary factors in the life of a soldier under fire are a sense of duty and a respect for other people’s opinion — in a word, honour. This is not a discovery; it is merely a personal opinion.

It must also be confessed that this training in courage is far more easy for us than for the foot-soldiers — the least fortunate of all the fighting forces. A gunner under fire is literally unable to run away. The whole battery would see him — his dishonour would be palpable, irretrievable. Now fear, in its more acute manifestations, seems to me necessarily to imply annihilation of will-power. A man incapable of controlling himself sufficiently to face danger bravely will, in the majority of cases, be equally incapable of facing the intolerable shame of public flight. Flight of this kind would necessitate an exercise of will — almost a kind of bravery. The infantryman is often isolated when under fire; when the shrapnel bullets are humming above him a man lying down at a distance of four yards from another is virtually alone. Concern for his own safety monopolizes all his faculties and he may succumb to the temptation to stop and lie low, or to sneak off to one side and then take to flight. When he rejoins his company in the evening he may declare that he lost his squad or that he fought elsewhere. Perhaps he is not believed, and possibly he was aware beforehand that no one would believe him ; but at least he will have escaped the intolerable ignominy of running away before the eyes of all.

To remain under fire is by no means easy, but to keep cool in the heat of a modern engagement is harder still. At first fear makes one perspire and tremble. It is irresistible. Death seems inevitable. The danger is unknown, and is magnified a thousandfold by the imagination. One makes no attempt to analyse it. The bursting of the shells and their acrid smoke together with the shrapnel are the main causes of the first feeling of terror. And yet neither the flashes of mehnite, nor the noise of the explosions, nor the smoke are the real danger ; but they accompany the danger, and at first one is attacked by all three at once. Soon, however, one learns to discriminate. The smoke is harmless, and the whistling of the shells indicates in what direction they are coming. One no longer crouches down unnecessarily, and only seeks shelter knowingly, when it is imperative to do so. Danger no longer masters but is mastered. That is the great difference.

In order to form an exact idea of the effects of a shell, I went with Hutin to examine a field full of Jerusalem artichokes in which a heavy projectile had just fallen. In the centre of the field we found a funnel-shaped hole about ten yards in diameter, so regular in shape that it could only have been made by a howitzer shell. This kind of projectile strikes the ground almost perpendicularly, and buries itself deep in the soft soil, throwing up enormous quantities of earth as it bursts. Many of the steel splinters are lost in the depths of the ground, and the murderous cone of dispersion is thereby proportionately reduced.

The truth of this can be easily confirmed. In the present case the farther we went from the hole the higher was the point at which the artichokes had been shorn off, and at a dozen paces or so from the edge of the crater the shrapnel had only reached the heads of the highest stems. It follows therefore that a man lying very near the point of impact would probably not have been hit. Next came a circular zone which was entirely unscathed, but a little farther on the falling
bullets and spHnters had mown off leaves and stems, and a man lying down here would have risked quite as much as if he had remained standing.

When thus coldly examined a shell loses much of its moral effect.

The actual organization of the artillery also stimulates a gimner’s courage. The footsoldier, cavalryman, and sapper are units in themselves, whereas for us the only unit is the gun. The seven men serving it are the closely connected, interdependent organs of a thing which becomes alive — the gun in action.

In consequence of the links existing between the seven men among themselves and between each of them and the gun, any faint-heartedness is rendered more obvious, its consequences much greater, and the shame it bears in its wake more crushing. Moreover, in this com- plete solidarity the effluvia which create psychological contagion are easily developed; one or two gunners who stick resolutely and calmly to their posts are often able to inspire the whole detachment with courage.

To-day was a day of undisturbed quiet. Over towards Tailly and Stenay nothing revealed the presence of the enemy.

When evening approached we were again sent off to encamp on the other side of the woods. There was a glorious summer sunset, and through the dark depths of the trees the road opened up a mysterious avenue at the end of which glowed a western sky more varied in hues than a rainbow.

All sound of battle had ceased. Gradually the sky darkened and night fell. As yesterday, the artillery rolled monotonously on through the shadowy woods.

One by one the stars were veiled by a rising mist, and the sky became opalescent with a nocturnal luminosity that flooded the stretches of the forest, which, from the crests of the hills, could be seen rising and falling as far as the eye could reach. But underneath the trees the darkness was intense, and the road would have seemed a trench dug deep in the earth itself but for an occasional infantry bivouac, the embers of which glowed faintly through the brushwood, and but for a damp scent of mint and other herbs which rose from the dark undergrowth mingled with a certain sensuous smell of animality. We were surrounded by a delicious freshness with which we filled our lungs and which made us shiver slightly.

Millon, who was sitting next to me on the limber-box, told me the story of his life. It was a sad and simple history. Only twenty, with his girl’s face and roguish yet infantile eyes, he had nevertheless long been the breadwinner of a family, and now his mother — ” my old mother ” as he said in a tone full of deep affection — had been left alone in Paris with another child, still very young, whose delicate constitution and highly strung nerves were the cause of continual alarm. He told me of past misfortunes still fresh in his memory, of the present anxiety of his people in Paris, and of material worries.

“Ah,” he sighed, “if only my old mother could see me to-night, safe and soimd on the limber!”

In the field where the battery halted we had almost to fight in order to get a few armfuls of straw. The gunners of a battery which had arrived before us had stretched themselves out haphazard on a fallen hay-rick. They had twenty times more straw than they needed, but when we tried to pull a little from under them the awakening of the overwrought sleepers was terrifying. They shouted, cursed, and threatened. Finally they fell asleep again, growling and grunting under their breath like a pack of surly dogs.

Paul Lintier

Tailly, France

Reveille came at two o’clock, together with orders to start at once. The Germans, we heard, had crossed the Meuse. But our artillery had no doubt registered the course of the river. I could not understand why we had not heard the guns.

In the darkness of the early dawn the road showed up yellow between the blue-grey fields. On the way I recognized the yew-trees of a cemetery in which some dead were being buried the day before.

We stopped in column on the steep ascent towards Tailly, and waited for orders. The day broke behind the hills and gradually overspread the whole horizon.

One by one the regiments of the 7th Division climbed up from the ravine and passed us. The men looked haggard and tired. Their eyes were hollow, and the faces of the youngest, drawn and sallow with privations, were furrowed with lines. The corners of their mouths drooped. Bending forward under the weight of their packs, in the attitude of Christ bearing the Cross, the infantry toiled up the hill as though it were a Calvary. At every hundred yards or so they halted and rehoisted their burdens with a jerk of their shoulders. Some of them were holding out their rifles at arm’s length, as though it were a balance which helped them to march. Others were complaining that they had had nothing to eat for two days. One of the lost, a pale, lanky, thin-faced fellow, with feverishly bright eyes, halted close to us and stroked the chase of the gun.

“Lord,” said he to Hutin,” you might as well put a shell through my chest! At least there’d be an end of it!”

“Aren’t you ashamed to talk like that?”

The other made a vague gesture, shrugged his shoulders, and went off dragging one leg after him.

As soon as the infantry had gone by we were ordered to take up our position on the plain, near the edge of the wood behind which the regiments of the line were retreating.

I heard the Major repeat the order received to the Captain: “Prevent the enemy from setting foot on the plateau. There are no more French in front of you!”

“So we are still covering the retreat! A vile job!” said Millon, the firing number, a good little Parisian chap, with a face like a girl.

In our present position we ran as great a risk from the rifle and machine-gun fire as from the shells. Not far off on the edge of the plateau, near the brush-shaped poplar, was a dark little copse whence at any minute bullets might come buzzing about our ears. The Germans might get their machine-guns there without being seen, rather than risk coming out into the open. And what might we expect then ? Oh, well ! . . . After all, that is what we had come there for.

“If we hadn’t been sold, things would have gone very differently,” growled Tuvache, a Breton farmer, who was brave enough under fire, but who suffered from bad morale.

And, still obsessed by the idea of treason, he added :

“And the proof is that they’ve been able to cross the Meuse without hindrance.”

Brejard made him stop talking.

” Why, you’re worse than the others, you are 1 We’re fighting from the North Sea right down to Belfort, aren’t we? Well, then, how can you judge by one wretched little corner? Perhaps we’re letting them advance as far as this in order to surround ’em afterwards. . . . Some of you chaps always seem to know more than your Generals. . . . And besides, all this time the Russians are advancing. You let things be. . . . We shall have ’em some day, never fear ! And then they’ll
pay for this!”

We awaited the appearance of the heads of the enemy’s columns, which from one moment to another might emerge from the Tailly valley.

The plateau, shining with dew, had assumed that absolutely silent immobility one so often notices in the country in the early hours of a sunny morning.

Four black points suddenly appeared far down the road? Was it the enemy’s advanced guard ? No. We were soon able to recognize three stragglers and a cyclist. A troop in column of march followed them out of the valley. In this order they could not be Germans. The column, which proved to be a
battalion of the loist, passed by, and disappeared down the road leading to the wood. But, in the rise and fall of the valleyed country stretching on the north-west as far as the dark masses of distant forests. Lieutenant Hely d’Oissel had discovered through his field-glasses large masses of men marching westwards through sunken roads which almost hid them from our view. Were they the enemy, or were they the French troops which were occupying the heights of the Meuse near Stenay and which were now retiring?

We had already experienced the same terrible uncertainty at Marville. The Captain climbed up into an apple-tree in order to see better, and the Major also tried to recognize the mysterious troops. But neither could distinguish anything. A mist — the dampness of the night evaporating — ^was already rising from the ground and veiling the horizon. If those were German columns, they would threaten the flank of the retreating army. A scout was sent off at a gallop to reconnoitre. Time passed, and the columns disappeared. At last the scout came back; the troops were French. He had seen parties of Chasseurs flanking them.

Our feet wet with dew, we once again became motionless and awaited the enemy.

About midday we received orders to move to the edge of the plateau, and take up position behind a clump of trees, in order to command the Tailly valley and the hills on the south of Stenay. And, continually, successive regiments -of infantry emerged from the forest and passed us, falling back.

“Dashed if I can fathom it!” said Hutin.

“Nor can I!”

It was very hot, and we were thirsty, but our water-bottles were empty.

We continued to wait until dusk, but the enemy did not appear.

Night had fallen when we were sent to encamp on the other side of the woods.

The moon was rising clear of the tree-tops. The regular clatter of hoofs and the monotonous roll of the vehicles blended together into a sort of weary cradle-song, and made us sleepy after a time. In order to suffer uncomplainingly all the hardships and miseries of war, we would have asked no more than one hour of affection, of sympathetic tenderness, in safety, at evening-time, after the long day spent in watching or fighting.

The road was level, and we were hardly shaken at all ; no one spoke, and most of us slept or dozed.

No sound disturbed the stillness of the warm night save that of the column on the march. Gradually we lost ourselves in pleasing reveries and memories of the past, forgetting present dangers and distress. On we jogged through space and time. . . . Lyons at night-time . . .long rows of lamps lighting the wharves and reflected in the Rhone . . . above the river the amphitheatre of Croix-Rousse with its lights scintillating Hke golden points, and above them, again, the stars. . . . Where did the town end, or where did the sky begin? . . . And the Mayenne in the bright days of autumn and summer, its sombre waters sparkling like black diamonds. . . . The memories which
rose up before me gradually blurred the scene of illusive reflections.

And perhaps I should die in a few hours time. . . .

Almost as if I myself had been able to write those beautiful verses of Du Bellay, I felt the aching nostalgia of his words:

Quand reverrai-je, helas I de mon petit village Fuiner la cheminee, et en quelle saison Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison, Qui tn’ est une province et beaucoup d’avantage

I repeated the lines to myself several times.

Paul Lintier

Beauclair, France


” What ? ”

“Come on, up you get!”

“What’s the time?”

“Don’t know. . . . It’s still dark.”

“All right, then, we’ll get up. Hutin, come on, get up!”

I shook Hutin, who growled in answer:

“All right ! Oh, Lord, I was so comfortable there!”

The noise of shuffling straw filled the barn.

“What’s the time?” repeated somebody.

“Look out there ! There’s a rung missing in the ladder.”

Noises of feet scraping against the ladder. An oath.

“Get the lantern!”

“Where is it?”

“Hanging behind the door.”

The men groped about for their belongings.

“My kepi!”

“Dashed if I can find the lantern! Come and help, can’t you?”

“Sure it can’t be two o’clock yet.”

” Come along now, hurry up,” cried a sergeant, opening the door. “Anybody else still asleep?”

No one replied. Outside, it was very cold, and the night was dark. Not a star was to be seen. Fires had been lit in the middle of the village, and coffee was on the boil. The church, a diminutive chapel magnified by the light from below, had almost the air of a cathedral, its spire lost in the inky blackness of the sky. Fantastic shadows danced on the walls, and the windows were momentarily lit up by red or green lights. A crowd of poor people fleeing from the enemy were sleeping in the nave, together with some soldiers who in vain had sought shelter elsewhere. Through the front entrance, which was wide open, the interior of the church looked mysterious, filled as it was with fugitive lights and shadows, like those cast by a building on fire. Under the vivid reflections of the stained-glass windows on the flags I caught a glimpse of prostrate human figures. In the square, soldiers coming and going between their fires threw enormous shadows on the ground and on the walls of the houses.

Why this alarm? Had the enemy succeeded in crossing the frontier near Stenay? We set off behind the infantry, whose tramp, tramp sounded like the movement of a flock of sheep on the road. The night was alive with moving but unseen forms. The breathing of hundreds of men on the march was felt rather than heard ; every now and then, as if from far off, came a half-lost word. All this invisible life in movement seemed to give off currents which traversed the night air like electricity.

In the distance we heard the sound of the guns towards which we were marching.

Soon the first streaks of dawn lit up the wooded hills, which reared their severe yet splendid crests between us and the Meuse. We passed through Tailly — a village at the bottom of a ravine, consisting of a few cottages, a church, and a cemetery.

When we arrived at Beauclair, in the valley of the Meuse, the engagement appeared to have finished.

In front of the church the infantry who had just been in action were resting amid their piled arms. The majority were pale — but some were very red. They had thrown themselves down on the bare ground in the sun, and not one of them moved a muscle. The stiffened features of the sleepers were eloquent of tragic weariness as they lay there with open coats and shirts, showing glimpses of naked chests. All were indescribably dirty, their legs plastered with mud up to the knees.

The battery halted outside the last houses of the village, and we at once set about making coffee. A hulking Tommy came up to ask for an onion. We questioned him :

“So they’ve not succeeded in crossing the Meuse yet ? ”

“Oh, yes, they have! . . . One brigade got over all right . . . but the artillery had mown down the bridges behind them, and so we had a go at them with fixed bayonets. . . . Lord! you don’t know what that’s like, you chaps! . . . A charge! . . . It’s awful! . . . Never known anything like it 1 If there is a Hell, I expect there’s bayonet fighting always going on there! . . . No! I mean it! Off  you go, shouting. . . . Then one or two fall, and after them lots of others. . . . And the more that fall the louder you’ve got to shout so that the others will come along. And then when at last you get to close quarters with ’em, why, you’re just raving mad, and you thrust and thrust. . . . But the first time you feel your bayonet sink into a chap’s stomach, you feel a bit queer. . . . It’s all soft, you’ve only got to shove a bit! . . . But it’s harder to withdraw clean! I was so damned gentle that I upset my fellow — a great big fat chap with a red beard. I couldn’t pull my bayonet out . . . had to put my foot on his chest, and felt him squirm under my tread. Here, have a look at this ! . . .”

He drew out his bayonet, which was red up to the cross-bar. As he went away he stooped down and plucked a handful of grass to clean it.

The hours passed. The enemy appeared unwilling to make another attempt to force the passage of the Meuse.

We heard that d’Amade had made a fiank attack on the opposing German army, and had taken Marville.

D’Amade ! Well done, d’Amade ! But . . . was it true ?

At Halles, a mile and a half from Beauclair, we encamped at the foot of some high hills. The guns, which for some time past had been
silent, again began to thunder. The enemy was bombarding the heights above us.

As billets for the night we had been given a spacious barn. But when at dusk we went there to get some sleep we found our straw covered with foot-soldiers, rifles, and packs.

The artillerymen began swearing:

“Hallo, what the hell’s all this ? No more room left?”

There was a scrimmage to let us find places.

The barn had a loft above it to which a ladder gave access, and the floor of which was worm-eaten. We stuffed up the holes with hay.

“There we are! As usual, the artillery- above, and the infantry below. That’s all right. … But mind you don’t take the ladder away!”

“Take care of your feet. . . . 0-o-oh ! ”

” Why couldn’t you say you were in the straw?”

” Now then, up you go!”

Five or six artillerymen were on the ladder at the same time. It bent beneath their weight. Below, a foot-soldier stood motionless, holding a candle in his hand.

“Look out ! Don’t want your spurs in my face, you know!”

“Growl away, old chap! Let’s get up.”

“The floor’s giving way ! . . . They’ll fall through.”

“Go on, climb up! It’s less dangerous than the shells!”

“Damn it all, move up a bit, you fellows; otherwise there won’t be room for all of us!”

“Don’t go there ! There’s a hole. . . . You’ll fall on the Tommies down below!”

Downstairs the infantry were grumbling :

“Can’t you keep quiet, up there, eh ? We want to sleep ! And the straw’s all falling in our mouths!”

“If only it would stop yours!”

“Look out, you’re on my stomach ! ”

“Sorry. Can’t see an inch in here. . . . Can’t you raise the lantern over there?”

Again came the soimd of a shell bursting in the distance. I hesitated whether to take off my spurs and leggings, although I knew quite well that I should sleep better without them. But, if there was an alarm, should I be able to find them in the straw ? Finally, I decided to keep them on, nor did I unstrap my revolver holster, which was chafing my side. I tightened my chin-strap so as not to lose my kepi.

Paul Lintier

Dun-sur-Meuse, France

It had poured all night, and rain was still falling when we rose. The thought of all the misery such weather must inevitably cause spoiled the satisfaction we experienced at feeling fit and fresh after ten hours’ delicious sleep in a well-closed barn. Our horse-cloths thrown over our heads like hoods and flapping against our calves, we silently marched in scattered order along the churned-up road, our feet squelching in the mud, and finally regained the park under the lashing rain.

The horses, motionless, glistening with water but resigned, endeavoured unceasingly to turn their tails to the rain. The stable-pickets had succeeded in lighting fires but they had had to dig new hearths, for those of the day before were swamped and black pieces of charred wood were floating in them.

The men’s cloaks were streaming and hung heavily in stiff folds from their shoulders. Some of them had turned up their capes in order to protect their heads. The gimners stood round about, holding their red hands to the fire.

“Beastly rain! Two days more like this and we shall all get dysentery!”

“I’d rather die of that than be killed by a shell,” said Hutin.

“No use trying to make coffee,” growled Pelletier. ” The fire doesn’t give out any heat…. It would take hours.”

“It’s the wood that won’t burn. It only smokes.”

“Blow on it, Milion!”

We turned our boot soles to the heat in order to dry them. The rain hissed and spat in the fire.

“All the same,” said the trumpeter, “if we hadn’t been betrayed things wouldn’t have gone like this!”

I grew annoyed.

“Betrayed ! I was waiting for some one to come out with that!”

“Well, I mean it; betrayed! I heard about it yesterday. … It was a General who delivered up the army plans. I know what I’m talking about!”

“Pooh! Camp gossip!”

“I heard the same thing,” affirmed another.

” Simply camp gossip ! From the moment we got scratched that was bound to come sooner or later. If you’re beaten it’s because you’ve been betrayed ! The French can’t be the weaker ! Lord, no ! It’s impossible, of course ! But you know there are five German army corps in front of us. That makes two to one. . . . No . . . well, all the same. Even with two to one we can’t be beaten, can we ? And, if we are, we at once begin to whine about betrayal ! Wasn’t it you who were always saying that Langle de Gary’s army ought to come up and help us ? Eh ? Well, it’s all simply because you don’t feel strong enough to tackle the Boches by yourselves.”

“All the same, traitors exist right enough,” said the trumpeter with a sage nod of the head. “There always have been traitors, and there always will be, to sell France.”

“Idiot!” said Hutin peremptorily.

Almost all my comrades thought as I did. A few properly equipped reinforcements would have enabled us to get the upper hand. Even alone, here behind the Meuse, we could have managed to stop the enemy.

Besides, during the days of defeat we had just been passing through, what a moving picture of our country had been revealed to us! An army immediately victorious cannot plumb the depths of patriotism. One must have fought, have suffered, and have feared — even if only for a moment — to lose her, in order to understand what one’s country really means. She is the whole joy of existence, the embodiment of all our pleasures visible and invisible, and the focus of all our hopes. She alone makes life worth living. All this united and personified in a single suffering being, begotten by the will of millions of individuals — that is France !

In defending her one defends oneself, seeing that she is the sole reason for being, for living. One would prefer to fall dead on the
spot rather than see France lost, for that would be worse than death. Every soldier feels this truth, either vaguely, or distinctly and clearly, according to his powers of perception and affection.

And yet, in the camp, these things are never talked of. The reason is that words which, in peace-time, too often veiled by their gross grandiloquence these deeper and finer feelings, would be insupportable now. This passion, for it is a passion, lies deep down in the heart with other sacred and inmost emotions, to give outward expression to which would be almost to profane them.

“Come on, now! Harness! Hook in! We’re off.”

The rain had soured the men’s tempers.

“Now then ! Be careful with your horse, can’t you ? You might have killed us!”

” Untie your horses so that we can get the picket-lines, will you ? . . . All right, damn you, I’ll do it myself.”

“There’s a silly fool ! Fine place to tether a colt to — the wheel of an ammunition wagon. He’s ripping up the oat-bag. Pull him off,
can’t you ? ”

Cramone, threatening his team with his whip, repeated for the twentieth time:

“I’ll teach you how to behave, you brutes!”

“There’s another dish lost,” shouted Millon. ” Who’s the idiot who didn’t pick it up yesterday ? ”

“Can’t you pull your infernal mules back a bit ? . . . We can’t limber up. . . . Never seen such a fool ! . . .”

The men pushed and tugged at their horses, which, face to the wind, continued pulling this way and that in a vain attempt to prevent the rain stinging their ears. Brejard lost his temper.

“Lord, what a set ! Can’t you keep your horses straight? . . . Look at that off-leader! . . . Can’t you see he’s got entangled ? . . .”

“Thought we were going to have a rest to-day!”

“I suppose the Germans are resting, aren’t they?”

The start was difficult. During the night the wheels of the vehicles had sunk deeper and deeper into the softening soil, and the horses’ hoofs kept slipping on the slope.

Once on the road the battery broke into a trot, the mud splashing in sprays from under the feet of the horses. Some of the gunners,
attacked by colic, stopped in the ditches, and then, still doing up their breeches, ran along by the side of the column in order to overtake their vehicles.

We were going to extend a strong artillery position on the heights of the Meuse valley. From the hills near Stenay the sound of the guns reached us in gusts, and, some distance off, above the woods, we could see the shrapnel shells bursting. The rain had stopped, and the sky, dark a moment previously, suddenly cleared and assumed a uniformly light grey tint.

In a meadow by the roadside some peasants, fleeing before the tide of invasion, had set up their nightly camp. A large green awning sheltered their cart and formed a tent at the same time. Two shafts projected from the front end, pointing skywards. An old man and two women — both pregnant — with half a dozen children clinging to their skirts, watched us go by.

The road rose stifily upwards, and the column slackened its pace to a walk. I heard one of the women say to the old man, as she gave him a nudge with her elbow :

“Go on, father!”

The old man hesitated, but she insisted:

“You must!”

He seemed to make up his mind, and approached us, shifting from one leg to another. Then, with a red face, he muttered:

“No! Can’t ask for that at my time of life!”

He was about to go, but we stopped him.

“Ask for what, old fellow?”

“For a bit of bread, if you’ve got any over. It’s for the children!”

“Yes, of course we have! We never eat it all!”

As a matter of fact we seldom get enough bread. The loaves have to be sorted out, and when the mouldy parts have been thrown away, the ration is usually more than halved. The old man walked by the side of the limber while the men searched in their bags.

“Here you are!”

Two loaves, almost fresh, were held out to him.

“With an onion and a good set of teeth they’re eatable!”

“Thanks. . . . Thank you so much. . . . But I’m afraid you’ll be short yourselves!”

“Oh, no! That’s all right, old chap! Why, we get a wagonful of those every day!”

He made off, a loaf under each arm. I saw him hunch his shoulders and dry his eyes with the sleeve of his coat.

A shower of shrapnel shells suddenly burst in the distance, over the dark woods.

“Swine!” growled Millon between his teeth. He had given up his bread.

He shook his fist towards the enemy.

Once in position to sweep the uplands on the right bank of the Meuse, we dried ourselves in the sun.

In the afternoon a few horsemen. Uhlans presumably, appeared on the edge of a distant wood. A broadside of shells quickly made them seek cover again.

Paul Lintier

Dun-sur-Meuse, France

Reveille came at dawn, and we woke to find a thick fog enveloping the battery. We were soaking with dew, and our benumbed and swollen limbs moved jerkily and with difficulty. The uncertain half-light awoke in us a feeling of anxiety and dread which, still heavy with sleep as we were, it was hard to throw off.

Wrapped in our cloaks and standing motionless round the guns, we had leisure to examine our situation in this clearing in the middle of the forest. On the right, according to our officers, it was not known whether there were any French troops. On this side the woods stretched uninterruptedly from the ridges we were occupying as far as Remoiville. On the left the movements of the 4th Army Corps were to be carried out. It is said that normally an army corps takes ten hours to effect a retreat along a single road. And this retreat had already been in progress for more than fifteen hours.

Our position in the clearing was difficult in itself, and might become positively perilous if the fog did not lift. Nothing could be distinguished at a distance of fifty yards from the guns, and the enemy might advance in the plain, threaten the retreating army, and take us by surprise.

On all sides of us, therefore, were the woods and their shadows, the Unknown and Unexpected. In front of us the enemy hidden in the mist; behind, the Meuse; danger everywhere.

The thought of the Meuse was especially disturbing. When it should become necessary for us to retire in our turn, the Germans, whom there would be nothing to check on the right, might reach the river before us. Possibly we should not find a single bridge left standing. We might have to sacrifice ourselves for the defence of the army.

The hours dragged by. The mists seemed to be collecting on the flank of the hills facing the Meuse, whence they were wafted by the west wind in filmy, trailing clouds which gradually curled over the crests of the hills, floated towards us, enveloping our batteries for an instant, and then slowly sank down on the plain.

I have written these notes on my knee, my back resting against the brass bottoms of the shells in the ammunition wagon, which was opened out like a wardrobe. The men were standing about smoking, waiting for orders.

At last, about eight o’clock, the sun shone over the top of the hill and the fog, like a kind of impenetrable gauze, began to draw away in front of us. One by one the trees reappeared, only the tops of the loftiest remaining shrouded in the mist. Nothing stirred. The road, black yesterday with men and horses now appeared absolutely white between the meadows damp with dew and vividly green under the first rays of the morning sun.

Lying flat on our chests in the grass in front of our guns, on a sort of natural terrace between the stones descending the slope, we scanned the plain. After a time everything seemed to move, and one had to make an effort to dispel the illusion.

The men are saying that we may have to stay here two days. Surely that cannot be possible? Somebody asserted that he had heard the instructions given to the Major by a General :

“You’ll stay there,” said he,” as long as the position is tenable. I rely on your instinct as an artilleryman.”

Another man supported the first speaker.

“Yes, that’s right. He said, ‘ Solente, I rely on your instinct as an artilleryman.’ Why, I heard him myself.”

We also heard that last Saturday’s engagement would be known as the Battle of Ethe.

“No,” said another. ” It will be called the Battle of Virton.”

“Ethe, Virton ! . . . What the devil does it matter what it’s called. Seeing that we’ve had to retreat ! . . .”

“Oh, yes, but all the same,” said the trumpeter, ” we ought to know. Suppose you get back to your people and they ask you what engagements you’ve been in. You’ll answer, ‘ I’ve been fighting in Belgium.’

“Yes,’ they’ll say,” but Belgium is a big place — bigger than our commune! Were you at Liege, or Brussels, or Copenhagen? ‘ You would look a silly fool ! ”

The other shrugged his shoulders.

With the help of a bayonet we opened a box of bully-beef for the four of us, and fell to. The only sound was that made by the hatchet of one of the men who was chopping down a small birch-tree which might conceivably interfere with the fire of his gun.

The silence was too intense, the immobility of the countryside too complete. The enemy was there. We neither heard him nor saw him, but that only rendered him the more sinister. The unwonted calm, when we had braced ourselves up for battle, was terrifying, and our nerves became overstrained.

I supposed that the retreat of the 4th Army Corps had by this time been accompHshed. Time passed, and the French army was still falling back, while the enemy advanced cautiously, threading his way through the woods.

Suddenly, about two o’clock, a machine-gun began to crackle quite close by in the forest. A horseman galloped through the clearing
and drew rein beside the Major. We at once limbered up.

Was our retreat cut off? The staccato rattle of the machine-gun was now accompanied by intermittent rifle-fire. We had to cross the clearing diagonally in order to reach a forest path. Quite calmly, and determined to save our guns, we got our rifles ready. But the column crossed the close-cropped field without our hearing a single bullet, and we gained the wood in safety. We had to hurry, for the road, even if still open, might be closed at any moment.

Leaning over the necks of the horses in order to avoid the low-hanging branches which threatened to drag them from their saddles, and gauging by eye the narrow passage between the trees, the drivers urged their teams forward with whip and spur.

The road was still open. . . . We arrived at Dun-sur-Meuse, where we had to cross the river. The Captain assembled the non-commissioned officers :

“The bridge is mined. Warn your drivers to take care of the sacks on each side of the bridge. They’re full of melinite.”

In order to let us through the sappers threw some planks across the pit they had opened up in the centre of the bridge.

The hindmost vehicles of the column had not advanced two hundred yards on the other side of the Meuse, when a loud explosion shook us on our seats. The bridge had just been blown up. Behind us a large white cloud of smoke curled up in thick volutes, masking half
the town.

As we stood waiting for orders in a field, our guns in double column, some one called out:

“There’s the postmaster!”

“At last ! ”

“Letters! letters! A man to each gun!”

For eight days we had been waiting for news, and each man drew a little aside in order to be alone as he read.

It seems certain that the battle of Saturday the 22nd will be known as the battle of Virton.

Paul Lintier

Remoiville, France

I was awakened by the sun, and stretched myself.

“A good night at last, eh, Hutin?”

Hutin, still asleep, made no answer. Deprez called out :

“Now then, oats!”

Nobody was in a hurry. Two men, a confused mass of dark blue cloth, quietly went on snoring amid the straw strewn under the chase of the gun. Suddenly I thought I heard a familiar sound, and instinctively turned to see whence it came.

“Down!” cried some one.

The men threw themselves down where they stood. In mid-air, above the camp, a shell burst. In the still atmosphere the compact cloud of smoke floated motionless among the thin grey mists.

“It’s that aeroplane we saw yesterday we’ve got to thank for that,” said Hutin, who had been fully awakened by the explosion.

“Yes, but it was too high.”

“That’s only a trial round to find the range. We shall get it hot in a few minutes, you’ll see!”

“Now then, bridle! Hook in! Quick!”

The camp at once became full of movement, the gunners hurrying to their horses and limbers. In the twinkling of an eye the picketlines were wound round the hooks behind the limbers, and the teams were ready to start. Again came the whistling of an approaching projectile. The men merely rounded their backs without interrupting their work. High-explosive shells now began to fall on Marville,
and others, hurtling over our heads, swooped down on the neighbouring hills which the enemy doubtless believed manned by French
artillery. The drivers, leaning over their horses’ necks, whipped up the teams, and the column made off at a trot to take up position
on the hills to the west of the town, which dominated the Othain valley and the uplands on the other side of the river, whence the
enemy was approaching. A veritable hail of lead, steel, and fire was raining upon Marville.

One of the first shells struck the steeple. The town was not visible from our position, but large black columns of smoke were rising
perpendicularly into the sky, and there was no doubt that the place was in flames. Amid the roar of the cannonade, which had now become an incessant thunder which rose, fell, echoed, and rolled without intermission, it was difficult to distinguish between shots
coming from the enemy’s guns and those fired from ours. After a time, however, we were able to recognize the short sharp barks
of the .75’s in action.

“Attention! Gun-layers, forward!”

The men hurried up to the Captain.

“That tree like a brush … in front. . . .”

“We see it, sir ! ”

” That’s your aiming-point. Plate 0, dial 150.”

The men ran to the guns and layed them, the breeches coming to rest as they closed on the shells. The gun-layers raised their hands.

“Ready 1”

“First round,” ordered the gun-commander.

The detachment stood by outside the wheels of the gun, the firing number bending down to seize the lanyard.


The gun reared like a frightened horse. I was shaken from head to foot, my skull throbbing and my ears tingling as though with the jangle of enormous bells which had been rung close to them. A long tongue of fire had darted out of the muzzle, and the wind caused by the round raised a cloud of dust round us. The ground quaked. I noticed an unpleasant taste in my mouth — musty at first, and acrid after a few seconds. That was the powder. I hardly knew whether I tasted it or whether I smelled it. We continued firing, rapidly, without stopping, the movements of the men co-ordinated, precise, and quick. There was no talking, gestures sufficing to control the manoeuvre. The only words audible were the range orders given by the Captain and repeated by the Nos. 1.

“Two thousand five hundred!”

“Fire !”

“Two thousand five hundred and twenty-five !”


After the first round the gun was firmly settled, and the gun-layer and the firing number now installed themselves on their
seats behind the shield. On firing, the steel barrel of the .75 mm. gun recoils on the guides of the hydraulic buffer, and then quietly and gently returns to battery, ready for the next round. Behind the gun there was soon a heap of blackened cartridge-cases, still smoking.

“Cease firing!”

The gunners stretched themselves out on the grass, and some began to roll cigarettes.

Another aeroplane; the same black hawk silhouetted against the pale blue sky which at every moment was getting brighter.

The men swore and shook their fists. What tyranny! It was marking us down!

Suddenly the enemy’s heavy artillery opened fire on the hills we were occupying as well as on a neighbouring wood. It was time to
change position, since for us the most perilous moment is when the teams come up to join the guns. A battery is then extremely vulnerable.

Before the enemy could correct his range the Major gave an order and we moved off to take up a fresh position in a hollow on the plain. The wide fields around us were bristling with stubble, and on the left a few poplars, bordering a road, traced a green line on the bare countryside. In front of us and behind stretched empty trenches. Marville was still burning, the smoke blackening the whole of the eastern sky. The sun was now high in the heavens, and poured a dazzling light on the stubble-fields. We were suffering badly from hunger and thirst. The din of the battle seemed continually to grow louder.

At the foot of some distant hills, still blue in the mist on the south-eastern horizon, the Captain had perceived a column of artillery or a convoy and large masses of men on the march. Were they French troops, or was it the enemy? He was not sure. The mist and the distance made it impossible to recognize the uniforms.

” We can’t fire if those are French troops,” said he.

Standing on an ammunition wagon he scanned the threatening horizon through his field-glasses.

“If it’s the enemy, they are outflanking us . . . outflanking us ! They’ll be in the woods in a moment. . . . We shan’t be able
to see them. … Go and ask the Major.”

The Major was no better informed than the Captain, the orders he had received saying nothing about these hills. He also was using
his field-glasses, but could not distinguish the uniforms of the moving masses. In his turn he muttered :

“If it’s the enemy they’re surrounding us!”

A mounted scout was hastily dispatched. We remained in suspense, a prey to nervous excitement.

A single foot-soldier had stopped near the fourth gun. He had neither pack nor rifle. We questioned him :



“Where have you come from?”

The Captain signalled for the man to be taken to him. The soldier, who had thrown away his arms, did not hurry to obey.

“What are those troops down there?” asked the Captain. “French?”

“I don’t know!”

“Well, where do you come from?”

The soldier waved his arm with a vague, comprehensive gesture which embraced half the horizon.

“From over there!”

The Captain shrugged his shoulders.

“Yes, but where are the Germans ? Do you know whether they have turned Marville on the south?”

” No, sir. . . . You see, I was in a trench. . . . And the shells began to come along — great big black ones. . . . First they burst
behind us, a hundred yards or more. . . . Then, of course, we didn’t mind ’em. But soon some of them fell right on us . . . and
then we ran ! ”

“But your officers?”

The man made a sign of ignorance. Nothing more could be got out of him. Just at that moment a shell came hissing through the air,
and he at once made off at full speed, crouching as he ran. A few dislocated words came back to us over his shoulder:

” h I Bon Dieu de bon Dieu!”

The shell burst on the other side of the road, and the moment after three others exploded nearer still. The Captain had not ceased to follow through his glasses the doubtful troops which, by now, had nearly reached the woods. We waited anxiously, standing in a circle round him.

” I believe they’re French,” said he. ” Here, Lintier, have a look! You’ve got good eyes.”

Through the glasses I was able to distinguish the red of the breeches.

” Yes, they’re French, sir. But where are they going to?”

The Captain made no reply, and I understood that once again our army was in retreat.

A shower of shells poured down on the field behind us.

The enemy’s fire, too much to the left and too high at first, was getting nearer, and was now corrected as far as training went. Our
lives depended on the whim of a Prussian Captain and a slight correction for elevation.

Just at that moment some sections of infantry suddenly appeared on the edge of the plateau and hurriedly fell back. A company of the I Gist had come to man the trenches behind our guns.

The air began to vibrate again, and more shells fell, this time right on the top of us. A splinter brushed by my head and clanged on
the armour of the ammunition wagon. Another shell plumped down in the trench full of infantry. One, two, three seconds passed; then came a groan and a cry. A man got up and fled, then another, and, finally, the whole company. Their heads held low, and with bent knees, they scurried off. Behind them a wounded man hastily unstrapped his pack, threw both it and his gun to one side, and limped rapidly away.

A road orderly arrived with an envelope for the Major. Orders to retire. We limbered up, and moved off at a walking pace. Under the bright sun the stubble-field, with its entrails of black earth laid bare by the gashes torn by the high-explosive shells, seemed to
possess something of the horror of a corpse mutilated with gaping wounds. Near the points of burst clods of earth had been blown
to a distance, and, round the edge of the hole, the soil was raised in a circular embankment. We were still threatened by sudden death.
Some one asked:

“Why don’t we go quicker ? . . . We shall get done in!”

But I fancy that all of us were conscious that fatalism — which is, I believe, the beginning of courage — had got a grip on us. The
enemy was firing without seeing us, and his shells seemed like the blows of Fate descending from heaven. Why here rather than there?
We did not know, and the enemy assuredly did not know either. In that case, what was the good of hurrying? Death might as easily
overtake us a little farther on. Useless to hurry, then ; absolutely useless. … In front, our officers, heel by heel, rode on, talking.

In the trench in which the shell had just burst a single soldier remained behind. He was stretched out face downwards on a heap of straw which he had gathered under him for greater comfort. Blood was oozing from a wound in his back, making large black stains on the cloth, and the straw underneath him was dyed crimson. Another splinter had hit him in the back of the neck; his kepi had fallen
off and his face was buried in the straw. All eyes were turned on him as we passed, but not a word was said. What can one say about a
burst shell or a dead man?

Another defeat! Just as in 1870! . . . Just as in 1870! We were all obsessed by the same paralysing thought.

“They are devilish strong! Look at that!” said Deprez, pointing towards the plateau where, as for as the eye could reach, swarms of French infantry could be seen retreating, Latour, six hours’ fighting; to-day, hardly more. Beaten again! Oh, God!

We felt a blind rage against those who had fallen back. We did not retreat last Saturday when we were in action by the willow-tree.

In the distance, towards Marville, columns of artillery were trailing over the bare fields. A blue and red squadron was raising clouds of dust. Waves of infantry, diminishing but still noticeable, dust-covered cavalry, and black lines of artillery could be seen as far as the horizon, moving under the scorching sun. The guns had ceased to roar and there was absolute silence. The earth, parched and hot, exhaled a vapour which seemed to follow the movements of the men. It was almost as if the entire plateau had begun to march.

At Remoiville we came upon a beautiful chateau of the Early Renaissance period, with severe Hnes of long terraces and lofty turrets
over which floated a white flag with a red cross. In the village not a soul was to be seen. Doors and windows were all closed.
A few hens were scratching about on a manure heap, and a pig, which two gunners were killing in a little sty black with refuse, raised
piercing and discordant squeals. And yet, on the threshold of one of the last houses, a wretched ruin in the shadowy interior of
which we caught a glimpse of a varnished wardrobe, two old women, bent with age, watched us as we passed with eyes which were hardly perceptible under their furrowed eyelids. Only their fingers moved. Their silent and fixed stare, as keen as a steel blade, followed us like a reproach. Oh, we know it well, the bitter remorse of a retreat ! A deep sense of shame oppressed us as we filed through these villages which we were powerless to protect, which we were abandoning to the fury of the enemy. Things in them assumed an almost human expression; the fronts of the forsaken dwellings wore an air of dejected suffering. Fancy, no doubt ! Just imagination — but poignant and vivid imagination, nevertheless, for to-morrow all these villages might be burning and we, from our camp on the hills, should see the crops and cottages flaming when the sun went down.

It seems that the Allies have beaten the Germans in the north and in Alsace. At any rate the Communal and Army Bulletins, which are given us sometimes, say so. Then how is it that we are saddled with this terrible reproach by things and people whom we cannot defend against an enemy too superior in numbers ?

We waited some time at Remoiville, and then set off across the river, which boasted a single bridge. The crossing was carried out in good order. Then, by the only road, across the valleyed country where dark green forests alternated with fresh pasture-land, the retreat of the 4th Army Corps began.

The western horizon was limited by a long range of blue hills of magnificent outlines. It was doubtless upon these that the French
intended to stop and entrench themselves.

On the right of the road the interminable procession of artillery and convoys continued: guns of all calibres, ammunition wagons, forage wagons, carts, supply and store vehicles, division and corps ambulances, and peasants’ carts full of bleeding wounded, their heads sometimes enveloped in lint turbans red with gore.

Keeping to the left the infantry marched abreast in good order down the road, which was already badly cut up. In front of us rolled a 120 mm. battery. One of the corporals had half a sheep hanging from his saddle.

The l0th Battery had lost all its guns, for when, about one o’clock, the infantry gave up all resistance, the gunners could not limber up, the enemy’s fire having almost completely destroyed the teams. Captain Jamain had been hit in the thigh by a shell splinter. We
caught sight of him as he lay stretched on a hay-cart among the wounded foot-soldiers.

The forest, very dense and very dark in spite of the blazing sun, deadened the tramp of the infantry on the march and the rumble of the wheels.

In the ditches some foundered horses were standing with drooping heads and half-closed eyes glassy with fatigue. Occasionally a wheel fouled them, but they did not budge an inch. They would only He down to die.

As it turned out, however, the 4th Army Corps was not going to await the enemy on the hills which, in a series of ridges, commanded the plain and the forest. Some one told me that the whole of Ruffey’s Army was falling back behind the Meuse. The general retreat continued along the highway, but our Group turned aside down a by-road which led first to a village swarming with troops, and then zigzagged up the wooded hill-side.

We began the ascent. The sky had suddenly clouded over and the air became sultry. A few drops of rain fell. The main road below, over which the tide of retreating troops ebbed ceaselessly on between the poplars bordering it on either side, looked like a canal filled with black water and moved by a slow current.

The column halted, and we carefully wedged the wheels. The men were tired, and hardly any words were spoken. The silence was only broken by the jingling of the curb-chains as the horses stretched their necks, and by the patter of the rain on the leaves.

We advanced another hundred yards or so, and at the next turn of the road stopped again. A peasant’s cart, filled with bedding,
upon which were sitting a woman — obviously pregnant — and an old lady, both sheltering under a large umbrella, tried to pass the
column. But several of the ammunition wagons, of which the wheels had been badly secured, had slid backwards and barred the way. A girl was driving the heavy cart, which was being laboriously dragged up the hill by a mare in foal between the shafts, and a colt in front, the latter pulling in all directions. Both the girl and the animals stuck pluckily to their job.

“Now then, come up!”

The mare threw herself into the collar, and, with our aid, they eventually reached the head of the column, after which the way was clear. The girl stopped the cart for a moment and caressed the nose of the heavy animal, from whose haunches steam arose in clouds.

We exchanged a few words.

“Where are you going to?”

” We don’t know. At any rate we must cross the Meuse. . . . We’re late, too. All those who had to go went this morning, when we first heard the guns. But we didn’t; we thought we would wait a little longer and see what happened. But after all we had to go too. Best to go, isn’t it ? ”

“Yes,” we told them, “you’d better go.”

“And the Germans are perfect savages, aren’t they ? ”


“They’ll burn our houses … we shan’t find anything when we come back — nothing but ashes. Oh, it’s awful! . . . Can’t you kill them all?”

“If only we could! . . .”

“Now then, come up, old girl!”

The cart moved on.

“Good luck!” cried the girl over her shoulder.

“Thanks— good luck!”

Near the top of the hill was a large clearing in the woods, from which the forest appeared like a magnificent mantle thrown over the shoulders of the neighbouring crests, rounding their edges and softening their outlines. From this point we could see the whole of the Woevre plain we had just crossed as well as Remoiville and the plateau of Marville, where, standing sharply out against the bare ields, was the dark line of poplars near which we had been in action in the morning.

Here, in a field where the oats were only half cut, we prepared to wait for the enemy. Our mission was to cover the retreat of the
4th Army Corps, which still continued below on the main road over which an interminable procession of Paris motor-omnibuses was now
passing. The sky had become overcast, and the heavy clouds banking up behind us, to the west, threatened to shorten the daylight.

Advancing round the edge of the wood, in order not to reveal our presence, the battery finally came to a halt on the outskirts of the
sloping forest, behind some clumps of trees which afforded good cover. We unharnessed and placed the horses and limbers against the
background of foliage of which, from a long distance, they would seem to form part. We hoped to have a quiet evening, especially as
the next day would probably be a very strenuous one. The two batteries which at present formed the Group, that is to say only seven guns, would have to hold up the enemy a sufficient time to ensure the retreat of the Army Corps. But we hardly gave any heed to the morrow, being too tired to think or reason.

We had still to take the horses to the pond in the village at the foot of the hill, and started off down a steep and narrow path through the wood. The only street of the hamlet was still crowded with troops. Through the open window of the mayor’s house I saw
General Boelle. He looked grave but not worried, and I searched in vain for a sign of uneasiness in his expression.

Infantrymen had piled arms on both sides of the road in front of the houses. A flag in its case was lying across two piles. At the door of the vicarage at least two hundred men were crowded together holding out their water-bottles. The cure, it appeared, was giving them all his wine. Some Chasseurs, their reins slung over their arms, stood waiting for orders, smoking, their backs to the wall of the church. I overheard some of their talk.

“So Mortier’s dead, is he ? ”

“Yes. Got a bullet in the stomach.”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing much. … He said, ‘They’ve got me!’ and he lay down clutching his stomach with both hands. He rolled from side to side and said : ‘Ah-a-a-ah! They’ve got me!’ His horse, Balthazar, was snifhng at him. He hadn’t let go of the reins . . . still held ’em just like I’m holding these, over his arm. I heard him say, ‘ Poor old boy ! ‘ He was all doubled up, and groaned and panted ‘ ouf- ouf ! ‘ and then all of a sudden he stretched himself right out at full length. . . . One more Chasseur less! His face wasn’t a pretty sight, and I shut his eyes for him. Then I broke off a branch from a tree and covered his face with it, as I should like some one to do
to me if I went under. . . . Must cover up the dead somehow. . . . After that I came back with Balthazar.”

When we had climbed back up the hill and regained our clearing many of the foot-soldiers had already left, while others were strapping
on their packs and unpiling arms. We were informed that only one battalion was to stay there and support us. I wondered what awful attack the next day might hold in store.

A Captain of infantry accosted Astruc, who was astride Lieutenant Heiy d’Oisseys big horse.

“Hallo there, gunner ! ”


“Well i’m shot if it isn’t Tortue!”

“Tortue, sir? Who’s Tortue?”

“Why, the horse I lost. That’s him! There can’t be any mistake. Dismount now, quick, and hand him over!”

Astruc protested:

“But, sir, this horse belongs to our Lieutenant! I must take him back to him. What would he say to me!”

“Well, I tell you to dismount. I suppose I know my own saddle, don’t I ? And Tortue . . . why, she knows me. . . . There! You see there’s no doubt about it. It’s Tortue all right, my mare which I lost at Ethe.”

” But, sir, this is a horse, not a mare.”

The officer examined the animal more closely.

“Oh! ah ! Why yes, it’s true! Now that’s odd . . . most extraordinary! I could have sworn it was Tortue. …”

Night fell, the mist enveloping the trees round the clearing. Under the black clouds passed yet another aeroplane, blacker even than they. Could the pilot see us at that hour? If so we might expect a shower of shells at daybreak. The machine pitched and tossed in the sky above the clearing, for the wind had risen and was blowing in gusts from the west.

We had strewn some cut oats round the guns, as the night was chilly, and it looked like rain. The wind, freshening into a gale, wrapped our cloaks tightly round us and almost seemed to move the men themselves. No light of any kind was to be seen on the plain over which our guns were pointing, and which soon became shrouded in the impenetrable darkness ahead. In one corner the clearing cut into the forest, and here, where the thick brushwood rose like a black wall on either side, we were allowed to light a fire. The wind blew in gusts on the flames, which it first nearly extinguished and then rekindled, making the shadows of the men flicker fantastically on the ground.

I was tired out — artillery fire creates an irresistible desire to sleep — and I Was also rather hungry. Not feeHng possessed of sufficient courage to wait for the meat to be cooked and the coffee brewed, I devoured my ration of beef raw and stretched myself out in the oats behind the ammunition wagon, where I was sheltered from the wind.